Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

February 11, 2014

Plan commission denies zoning request for Austin Mansion

Tony Huffman
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — Effingham Plan Commission denied a special use request Tuesday that would allow the Austin Mansion to be used for large events, such as weddings, following neighbors' concerns.

     Billi Jansen, owner of Walnut Street Weddings and recent purchaser of the Austin Mansion, came before the commission with Attorney Ed Deters requesting a special use permit to allow her to hold events on the property. Among the changes Jansen is asking are that a maximum of 250 guests be allowed on the property, as well as live music or entertainment until 10 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and use of the property as a bed and breakfast. She said the unique property is ideal for weddings.

     Jansen said she talked to neighbors in the  residential area and many are in favor of her plans for the historical property. She presented the commission a written agreement between her and the Village Square Mall that would give her the ability to park vehicles at the mall and have guests shuttled to the property.

     “I don't want driveways being blocked,” said Jansen.

     She added that a manager would be on-hand at all events to monitor the gathering and that larger events with music would only be held on the weekend.   

     During a public question-and-comment portion of the meeting, several people attending the meeting voiced concerns about the amount of people who would attend weddings and other events at the mansion.

     Tony Siemer, who has lived near the mansion since the late 1970s, believes parking and excessive noise pose the biggest problems.

     He implored the commission to deny the request based on potential alcohol consumption on the property and loud music playing until 10 p.m., saying a commercial property isn't appropriate in that area. He added that while Jansen may have a parking agreement with the Village Square Mall for now, that may change in the future.

     “I don't think it is appropriate to have an event venue for 250 people,” said Siemer, with other neighbors attending the meeting in agreement.

     Members of the plan commission agreed and denied the request.

Plan Commission President Greg Kemper said while he and the commission appreciate Jansen's plan to make use of property, he believes the potential number of people on the property isn't appropriate use of it.

Kemper advised Jansen revise the request, but added that “in my opinion, the commission isn't going to vote for that property to hold events for 250 people.”

   Jansen said after the meeting it's not economically viable to use the property for events with 50 people or less, as commissioners and others suggested.